In this Xbox Series X console review we’re going to be covering the next generation console from Microsoft, providing all the details about the system (including tech specs), and what we think about it from our hands on time with this massive upgrade for console gamers.
Console was provided by Microsoft, but thoughts and opinions are our own.
Xbox Series X Review: A Hell of a Start
Console Model: Xbox Series X (reviewed console)/Xbox Series S
Developed by: Microsoft
Launch Date: November 10th 2020
Price: $499.99 USD for Xbox Series X/$299 USD for Xbox Series S
With a little less than a week left before the retail release of next generation Microsoft and Playstation systems, console gamers have to be asking themselves which should I get? Is it worth getting a new Xbox now? Along with a ton of other questions, like what frame rates and resolutions can I play at? In this review we’ll attempt to answer all those questions and more, and give you some insight on why we think this just might be the best time to own an Xbox.
Microsoft Xbox Series X Technical Specs
In this section we’re going to look at the technical specs of the Xbox Series X, which is the fancier of the two Xboxs Microsoft is launching in just 5 days. A lot of these names and numbers may not mean a lot to some of you, so we’ll also follow up with the frame rates and resolutions, as well as our experience with the system using our own two eyes.
- CPU: 8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.6 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2
- GPU: 12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2
- Memory: 16GB GDDR6 w/320 bit-wide bus
- Storage: 1TB Custom NVME SSD
- Audio Support: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby True HD with Atmos & 7.1 L-PCM
- Inputs: 1x HDMI 2.1 port, 3x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports 802.11ac dual band wireless internet
- Dimensions: 15.1cm x 15.1cm x 30.1cm
- Weight: 9.8 lbs.
So what does all this hardware get you? Well for starters it can output at 8K HDR, which while not entirely useful at the moment, it helps to future proof the console over the next several years. Additionally, you’ll be able to play most games at 60 FPS in 4K HDR, and some games in 120 FPS in 4K HDR which is damn impressive. Gone will be the days of 30 FPS on console…
If you remember games on XBOX 360 played at 30 FPS in 1080i at launch, and on Xbox One many games played at 30 FPS at 1080p at launch, so even though there was a major improvement in performance it’s nothing compared to what you are seeing with the Series X. This major boost in performance should apply to all existing games on current gen consoles as well, so if you’re playing something on Xbox One at the moment you should have a vastly improved experience on the Series X. And yes, the Series X is backward compatible with all 3 other Xbox consoles (including many of the controllers).
An important aspect of the hardware is the “Bang for your Buck” of the experience. Many PC players may want to consider that Microsoft is successfully selling a decent PC for a very good price range, with significant dedicated optimizations focused on improved load times and gaming quality of life points: Quiet performance and Controlled Heat Emission. The Xbox Series X feels a lot quieter than what we’re used to, and controlled heat is as expected after being on for many hours.
We tried playing some older games on the platform to see how they did when they didn’t have a dedicated upgrade patch. The result is faster load times (by an unscientific 10-50%), and some improvements in graphic quality. For example the water features of Elder Scrolls Online got an unexpected and noticeable improvement when we booted it up.
Just for frame of reference we’re seeing faster load times on Xbox Series X when compared to a a PS4 Pro with an SSD drive installed.
Xbox Series X Setup and Dashboard
Setting up your Xbox Series X is a quick and smooth affair, but there was one surprising hiccup: “setup with app”. As you first boot your console, it will prompt you to continue by installing an app on your phone and managing your login and configuration through that. The fact that this is optional is not overtly clear (a small options icon takes you to skip), so it’s worth nothing for those of you who don’t want yet another app to worry about.
The console features trust modes so you can determine how much security the physical console needs: auto log ins, require a password, require password and confirmation, etc. I think one of my favorite little realizations was just how QUICK it was to start: no black screen, logos, etc – just straight to dashboard in one second from button push.
The Dashboard is the now familiar and optimized Xbox dashboard: looks very “Windows-like”, feels like a crossover of mobile and PC, and thankfully is pretty fast. You may find it overwhelming at times due to the amount of options that are now available, but users of the previous console will feel right at home. There’s also an option to “Quick Resume” games that can keep several games “on hold” in the background so you can swap between them without having to boot them from zero. The start up time of this feature remains to be truly stress-tested, but in general it would seem it keeps 3-5 games for quick swaps back and forth.
For those who enjoy talking to electronics, accessibility options provide both a narrator and voice-control of the soon-to-be AI overlords. For those who would rather press buttons, the Xbox controller is taking a step toward its origins and will feel entirely familiar – down to the inexplicable batteries. Like, seriously, I was shocked to be given batteries and no charging cable for the controller. There are improvements to it: the dedicated share button is very welcome, as are the added textures that you will only notice as time goes by and you start to wear it out from long gaming sessions.
Xbox Series X Launch Games
Performance, while very important when selecting which console to get, isn’t everything. What games are exclusive to that console can often be the difference when choosing which to get, especially when performance is similar in many respects.
In recent years Sony has published many of the best games in the gaming space, and that’s probably why it’s so much harder to find a PS5 at the moment. Reinforcing this idea is that Demon’s Souls Remake is a launch title, and a very compelling reason get the Playstation 5 on day one. Probably too compelling for many to pass up, myself included. But let me tell you why Xbox might deserve your consideration as well, even though they don’t have as strong of line up at present.
First, as I mentioned, the Series X is backward compatible with every single Xbox system ever made. And while I don’t have confirmation that every single Xbox game will work on the Series X, I have been told the number of games playable on DAY ONE is in the thousands. This means if you want to keep playing your Xbox One games, just with better performance, odds are you can do so from the get go.
Additionally, Xbox has a feature called Game Pass that many of you are already familiar with, that allows players to pay a subscription fee every month and gain access to new games on day one for no extra cost. This often saves players 100s of dollars over a given year, and what’s really great is that Game Pass is only getting better.
You may have heard that Microsoft has partnered with Electronic Arts to bring EA Play games to Game Pass as well, without increasing the cost to the consumer. And on top of that, you surely heard that Microsoft purchased Bethesda earlier this year, so the selection of games on Game Pass is only going to increase over the next few years.
And even if one made the argument that EA and Bethesda make mediocre games at best most of the time, you can still try them with no extra cost and essentially no risk. In a market where games are now going to cost 69.99, who wants to take a chance on a game like Rage 2? Well with Game Pass you don’t have to, because you won’t have to purchase it to play it.
Finally, probably even more compelling than that, is XBOX All Access. This business model allows you to purchase the Series X and 24 months of Game Pass for just 35 USD a month for 2 years. This is incredibly affordable, and allows access to Microsoft’s console for those that don’t have enough cash or credit to outright buy one on DAY One!
Final Thoughts: Should you get an Xbox Series X? How about Series S?
Whether to get a new console on launch day / week / month is always a very charged question. So, I’ll preempt my response by emphasizing that your situation is unique to you and you’ll be the best judge of whether this is a good expense. That said, I can absolutely highlight pros and cons!
Are you an Xbox Gamer?
YES. The fact that previous titles port over naturally without even an update is simply glorious. You will get better loading times, be future-proofed for upcoming titles and releases, and get to enjoy the many perks and quality of life features added with the new console. I would advise against getting the cheaper Series S, even if tempting, as you will eventually want more storage space and you’re looking at $220 to buy the 1TB expansion Card for the machine.
Are you a PC Gamer?
DO CONSIDER. If you don’t own a godly PC, you are unlikely to be getting the kind of performance that the Xbox is showcasing for a quite affordable price. In addition, many of the Xbox games you obtain via Game Pass can also be played on PC, so you are getting double platforms for one. This is of course in addition to the android remote play and whatever comes next for cloud gaming and such.
Are you a Playstation Gamer?
BE TEMPTED. Console gamers are much less likely to swap platforms due to extensive friend lists, achievement points, and controller familiarity. That said, if you are considering a swap, this may be the best time to do it, as Microsoft demonstrates a commitment to first party development we have not seen since they first let Bungie go. If you’re an RPG gamer like me, you probably focus on PC and Playstation mostly – but all that is about to change as Microsoft now owns inExile, Obsidian and Bethesda!
Are you a Switch or Casual Gamer?
YES. This is a great hardware upgrade for those who haven’t yet made the plunge to the more expensive “hardcore” consoles, but Microsoft is also providing a very neat and accessible experience due to good design choices and optimization of the dashboard. If you’re ready for the next step in gaming, this is a great investment.
All things considered, the true reviews for the new Xbox and Playstation consoles won’t be known for a year or so, when games built for each platform are in full swing and the test of hundreds of hours of use is fully completed on the hardware. What is clear right now, however, is that anyone who games on Xbox should absolutely upgrade if means allow, as it’s a very smooth transition, a definitive and noticeable hardware upgrade, and it brings with it your entire backlog of Xbox history, which means I can right now play Fable, Fable 2 and Fable 3 as I get hyped for upcoming Fable 4. This is a very welcome return to consumer-focused development, and one that I hope is well-rewarded.
So what are your plans for next gen? Will you be upgrading as soon as possible, or are you waiting for a while to see how games shake up? Let us know in the comments.
If you enjoyed this Review, be sure to check out more in Vigil: The Longest Night Review – Compelling Metroidvania and Wasteland 3 Review: Baldur’s Gate Meets X-Com.